The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

E.U. accuses Russia of ‘blackmail’ after gas cut to Poland, Bulgaria

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives at E.U. headquarters in Brussels on April 27. (Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

BRUSSELS — Russia’s state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, shut off the supply of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday, making good on a Kremlin target European countries who refuse to pay in rubles and signaling there could be more energy chaos to come.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the E.U. has worked with the United States and other allies to sanction Moscow, but several member countries remain heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas. The Kremlin insists that countries pay their bills in rubles

The move marks major escalation in the standoff between Russia and the E.U. over the war in Ukraine that could leave major European economies, including Germany, scrambling to find new suppliers and send energy prices soaring even higher.

Though both Poland and Bulgaria secured enough natural gas from other E.U. countries to keep the lights on for now, it is not clear whether the bloc could withstand additional cutoffs, especially if Russia stopped the flow of natural gas to countries like Germany and Austria, which remain dependent on imports of Russian gas.

E.U. officials said the cutoffs to Poland and Russia amounted to “blackmail” and highlighted the need for Europe to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels.

“The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally stopping delivery of gas to customers in Europe is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. “This is unjustified and unacceptable.”

Russia’s state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, shut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria on April 27. (Video: Reuters)

Russia cuts off gas to Poland, Bulgaria, stoking tensions with E.U. over Ukraine

This is the first supply disruption since Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “unfriendly countries” would have to pay for natural gas in rubles — despite the fact that such payments would violate E.U. sanctions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed charges of blackmail Wednesday while also warning of additional cutoffs if countries do not yield to Russia’s currency demands.

E.U. officials moved quickly to reassure citizens. “There will be no shortage of gas in Polish homes,” Poland’s climate minister, Anna Moskwa, said on Twitter. Bulgaria’s government also said it has secured alternate gas supplies and vowed that there would be no domestic restrictions on consumption.

At a news conference in Brussels, von der Leyen confirmed that both Poland and Bulgaria were getting gas from other countries. The E.U. has made “contingency plans” for cutoffs, she said, and officials will meet soon to discuss additional plans.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the E.U. has worked with the United States and other allies to penalize Moscow, but member countries continue to buy Russian oil and gas. Baltic states and some other Eastern European countries have called for a total embargo. Others, notably Germany, have resisted, saying they need more time to line up alternative supplies.

NATO members

Pipelines

Yamal-Europe

NOR.

FIN.

SWE.

Northern

Lights

North

Sea

Nord

Stream

EST.

LIT.

RUS.

Brotherhood

GER.

BEL.

POL.

KAZ.

UKR.

HUN.

CRO.

ROM.

CRIMEA

ITALY

BUL.

GEO.

GRE.

TUR.

IRAN

200 MILES

Sources: S&P Global Platts, Gascade Gastransport,

Trans Adriatic Pipeline

THE WASHINGTON POST

NATO members

Pipelines

NOR.

SWE.

FIN.

Yamal-Europe

North

Sea

Nord

Stream

Northern

Lights

EST.

Moscow

LIT.

Brotherhood

RUS.

GER.

BEL.

POL.

KAZ.

Kiev

UKR.

HUN.

CRO.

ROM.

CRIMEA

ITALY

GEO.

BUL.

GRE.

200 MILES

TUR.

IRAN

Sources: S&P Global Platts, Gascade Gastransport, Trans Adriatic Pipeline

THE WASHINGTON POST

NATO members

Pipelines

NORWAY

Yamal-Europe

FINLAND

200 MILES

SWEDEN

North

Sea

Nord Stream

Northern

Lights

ESTONIA

Moscow

Brotherhood

LITHUANIA

RUSSIA

Berlin

Minsk

GERMANY

Warsaw

BELARUS

Frankfurt

POLAND

Kiev

KAZAKHSTAN

UKRAINE

Separatist-

controlled

area in Ukraine

HUNGARY

Verona

CROATIA

ROMANIA

CRIMEA

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

ITALY

BULGARIA

GEORGIA

Lecce

GREECE

Ankara

TURKEY

IRAN

Sources: S&P Global Platts, Gascade Gastransport, Trans Adriatic Pipeline

THE WASHINGTON POST

The prospect of additional cutoffs could add momentum to E.U. plans.

Russia’s latest moves will only speed up the E.U.’s goal to “phase out” Russian energy, Eduard Heger, prime minister of Slovakia, tweeted Wednesday.

Norbert Röttgen, a lawmaker from Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, said an oil and gas embargo is now a matter of “E.U. solidarity.”

There were already signs of movement. During a visit to Warsaw on Tuesday, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Berlin was days away from striking a deal that could enable it to find an alternative for the 12 percent of the country’s oil that still comes from Russia.

The potential deal between Germany and Poland would try to secure supplies to Germany’s Schwedt refinery, which is operated by Russia’s state-owned energy giant Rosneft, from Poland’s Plock pipeline.

Jens Suedekum, a professor of international economics at the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics and an adviser to the German government, said the timing of Moscow’s move suggests it was in retaliation for the deal.

“Putin’s decision to cut off Poland from gas was, basically, a revenge act against the Plock pipeline deal,” Suedekum tweeted.

In a statement published Wednesday, Gazprom said it stopped supplying natural gas to Poland’s PGNiG gas company and Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz because they had not complied with an order to pay in Russian currency. The suspension starting Wednesday will last “until the payments are made” in rubles, Gazprom said.

PGNiG confirmed the cutoff, saying that its natural gas deliveries from Gazprom “have halted completely.”

If and how the cutoff will affect gas moving through Poland and Bulgaria to other E.U. countries was not clear. Gazprom said that if PGNiG or Bulgargaz were to siphon gas intended for third countries, the supplies for those countries “will be reduced by the volume that was offtaken.”

Ukrainian officials were quick to criticize Gazprom’s decision, saying the move was retaliation against the E.U. for its staunch backing of Kyiv — especially Poland, which has been particularly vocal in its support and has been a hub for arms and supplies flowing into Ukraine.

Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, said Russia has begun “gas blackmailing Europe.”

“We see the efforts to up the ante and disregard any rules and obligations, which is typical for Russians,” Yermak said in a post on Telegram. “Russia is trying to break the unity of our allies. … That is why the E.U. needs to be united and impose an embargo on energy resources, depriving Russians of their energy weapons.”

Officials and experts have long worried that the E.U. is too dependent on Moscow for energy. The two countries targeted Tuesday are especially vulnerable: Poland gets more than 45 percent of its natural gas from Russia and Bulgaria more than 70 percent, according to E.U. data.

The E.U. last month pledged to wean off Russian fossil fuels by 2030, starting by cutting gas imports by two-thirds by the end of this year.

On Tuesday, some analysts said Gazprom’s move could expedite the severing of ties. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, called it “yet another sign of Russia’s politicization of existing agreements,” and he predicted it would “only accelerate European efforts to move away from Russian energy supplies.”

Morris reported from Berlin and Pietsch from Seoul. Irynka Hromotska and Annabelle Chapman contributed to this report.

Loading...